Credibility bottoms out with three words: “I’m Self Publishing”

So I went into the unemployment office this morning for the orientation workshop–the first of four mandatory classes. I actually had to wake up to my alarm clock, something I haven’t done in a month. I don’t miss that at all. Ugk.

The class itself was only marginally informative, but I didn’t expect it to be a “next coming” sort of experience anyway. The most insightful thing I took out of it is that applying for jobs is much like sending unsolicited submissions to editors. The same things which will get you discarded immediately by an editor will get your resume/cover letter likewise circular-filed by a prospective employer. Basically, it behooves a writer/applicant to know the market/company they’re approaching, do their research, don’t unload personal grief in cover letters, etc. etc. It makes me feel a little better about the whole job application thing, thinking of it as a sort of unsolicited submission, which I’ve got tons of experience with, rather than something I haven’t done in nearly eleven years.

I also did a lot of people watching, the writer in me taking notes and trying to eavesdrop on conversations during breaks. Couple non-employment-oriented observations I made:

1. The people in business suits seemed to radiate more of a lost and helpless aura than the people in casuals. There’s a deer-in-headlights ambiance coming from them, especially the older ones.

2. The presenter, when he first introduced himself, exuded an air of professional efficiency. He was articulate, relaxed, and impeccably groomed–custom tailed French cut shirt with silver cuff-links. He did have a tendency of dropping the “l” in “help” so that it came out “hep,” which I found distracting (especially since one of the bits of paperwork he kept referring to was the “How May We Help You?” form). But overall he gave an excellent first impression, all “I am a font of sound advice, respect my authoritah”-ish.

In a “we’re all in the same boat” spiel, he commented that something everyone had in common in the room, aside from being unemployed, was we all had a story, which of course blipped my radar. And then he went on to give a brief overview of his. Apparently he was writing a novel and was so wrapped up in it he missed all the sinking ship signs at his previous place of employment. That is, until the pink slips started going out. During the break, I had to ask him how his novel was coming along.

Him: “Fantastic, it’s being published in June!”

Me, writers ears perking up (networking, ooo!): “That’s great! With whom?”

Him: “Myself.”

Me (ears drooping): “You’re self-publishing?”

Him: “Yep, I’m self-publishing. It’s the only way to maintain all my artistic rights. I firmly believe it’s the only sane way to publish these days–”

And suddenly, all the credibility he had with me is completely down the drain. I could almost see the red stamp on his forehead which read “SUCKER” and the big neon “I’VE BEEN SCAMMED” placard around his neck.

Whereas there are legit reasons to self-publish, “maintaining artistic rights” and viewing it as the only “sane” approach to publishing ain’t them. Ah well. No doubt he can still give me good pointers on writing a punchier resume . . .

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34 Responses to Credibility bottoms out with three words: “I’m Self Publishing”

  1. madwriter says:

    I think he may just be speaking from a point of ignorance. Well OK, that’s a “duh” comment–maybe I should say naivete. Business people who go to management or CEOs or some other above-grunt position tend to have the mindset that they can only succeed in business by being aggressive lone wolves. That to go through channels, to play the game instead of writing the rules, etc. etc. is to compromise their potential success in the business world. I can see how someone not truly familiar with the writing business might come to the conclusions he did.

    Or in other words, I would trust a brani surgeon to operate on my brain, but not necessarily to write a book I’d want to read.

  2. t_whitfield says:

    What’s the point of “maintaining artistic rights” if no one is going to read it anyway? He might as well hide it in a desk drawer. That’d have the same effect. Not to mention a whole lot cheaper.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Yep yep. I just think it’s sad how the Publish America and similar-minded pitches and propagandas have pervaded people’s thinking about the publishing business model.

  3. mr_zeugma says:

    I’m probably in the minority thinking on this: before you judge a person’s credibility, shouldn’t you at least judge their work for yourself, not on a pre-conceived bias against “self-publishing?”

    The world is full of great thinkers and leaders who make mistakes in areas other than their field of “expertise.” I wouldn’t be so quick to put down somebody just because they self-publish. With the state of publishing the way it is, his idea might just make sense–especially for him.

    Besides, there are plenty of “small” publishers with authors right here in LJ land who are struggling in the sales department with their books. Having somebody else publish your book doesn’t guarantee sale one.

    Self-publishing just might work for this guy, but not for somebody else or vice-versa. But it isn’t anything which should destroy somebody’s credibility–especially if the book becomes a success. Even a mild success.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      As I said in my last paragraph:

      Whereas there are legit reasons to self-publish, “maintaining artistic rights” and viewing it as the only “sane” approach to publishing ain’t them.

      Self-publishing is certainly a legitimate approach to publishing certain works–especially ones that have a small, very niche audience, like family genealogies, etc. However a concern for “artistic rights” and viewing the traditional model of publishing as “not sane” don’t fall into that collection ‘o good reasons.

      • mr_zeugma says:

        So you say. But who gets to decide what “reasons” are right for who?

        Like I said, I’m in the minority on this issue, if maintaining “artistic integrity” is his reason, it still doesn’t lessen credibility in other areas. I’d pass judgment on that only and after I heard or read the material he had to offer…

        And there are very successful self-published books who weren’t “niche” books, I’m think of that guy who wrote “The Christmas Box (I think that’s the title) and self published it initially until it became a TV movie and a huge best seller spawning multiple sequels. There are others, too. Exceptions all, I suppose.

        But one must do what one must do in ordr order to succeed in a very narrow-minded publishing world.

        • Eugie Foster says:

          So you say. But who gets to decide what “reasons” are right for who?

          I do. Because it’s my blog, so there!

          But seriously, everyone who has a decent grasp of the pitfalls of self-publishing/vanity presses don’t consider it the “only sane” approach to publishing.

          But one must do what one must do in ordr order to succeed in a very narrow-minded publishing world.

          Huh. I haven’t found it to be particularly narrow minded. Hard to get a foothold in, yes, but that can be said about most worthwhile achievements. Quality control does not equal “narrow minded.”

          • mr_zeugma says:

            Yes, plenty of pitfalls. Yet, it sometimes works for certain people. And while “quality control” may not equal narrowminded, neither does “only sane” or “maintaining artistic integrity” equal worthlessness or poor quality or lack of talent.

            Self-publishing is just another road or a tool to use, one which more and more people are exploring.

            And just because someone is published by some publishing house with lots and lots of “writers” in their stable, it still doesn’t mean success in the marketplace for that writer.

            And it doesn’t give them any more credibility than the little known or unknown writer who self publishes. It’s just easier for the “name” to get respect, even if it isn’t deserved.

          • Eugie Foster says:

            neither does “only sane” or “maintaining artistic integrity” equal worthlessness or poor quality or lack of talent.

            Did I say anything about the caliber of his writing? Nope. I’m saying that his credibility with me is down the tubes. Why? Because he’s a presenter, supposedly someone knowledgeable in the field he’s lecturing about, a SME one assumes, and he’s obviously misinformed on a topic which is near and dear to him. Ergo, he failed to do exactly what he admonishes us, his rapt audience, to do–his research.

            Not to mention that I’m a firm believer in Yog’s Law: “Money Flows TO the writer.” Anyone who’s giving me financial advice loses credibility if they can’t manage to grasp that basic writing biz tenet.

            And it doesn’t give them any more credibility than the little known or unknown writer who self publishes.

            It does with me. Sure there’s plenty of crap out there pushed out by major publishing houses, but at least some editorial standards were applied, some quality control. It doesn’t guarantee that what’s produced is a good product by a long stretch, but it’s a helluva lot better than nothing.

          • mr_zeugma says:

            And you judged him based on what? His admission that he wanted to self-publish? Maybe he tried the other method and didn’t like it…

            There are some in the “real” publishing circles who have some superior attitudes. And they really like being king or queen and feeling superior to others because of it. Maybe he didn’t like that attitude being directed at him and travels another path because of it. Doesn’t make him any less an “expert.”

          • Eugie Foster says:

            And you judged him based on what? His admission that he wanted to self-publish?

            See above re:
            Him: “Yep, I’m self-publishing. It’s the only way to maintain all my artistic rights. I firmly believe it’s the only sane way to publish these days–”

            And again, me above: “Whereas there are legit reasons to self-publish, “maintaining artistic rights” and viewing it as the only “sane” approach to publishing ain’t them.”

            There are some in the “real” publishing circles who have some superior attitudes. And they really like being king or queen and feeling superior to others because of it.

            Other people’s bad attitudes do not make a poor business choice any more credible. Just because I think the gas monkey at my corner Pump ‘n Go is an asshole doesn’t mean I should start drilling for oil in my backyard. Might mean I should try the Get Food And Gas that’s five blocks down, but to assume that everyone in the gas biz is an ass and that I should try to fuel my car from my own home-grown petrol efforts would say more about me than about big oil. (Disclaimer: This analogy is not a plug for big oil.)

            And you’re putting words into his mouth now, aren’t you? He said nothing about having issues with the attitudes of traditional publishers. Transferal, perhaps?

          • mr_zeugma says:

            Me? I got not problems.

            You seem to have a bias against people who self-publish, deeming them “not credible.” What makes them any less credible than anyone else? Just becuase you got a deal, don’t mean their choice is less viable for them.

          • Eugie Foster says:

            Me? I got not problems.

            Then what’s with the knee jerk? Now you’re putting words in my mouth, when I’ve actually written some perfectly reasonable ones to stick in it in my original post. And again, I quote myself:

            Whereas there are legit reasons to self-publish, “maintaining artistic rights” and viewing it as the only “sane” approach to publishing ain’t them.

            The single person in question here lost credibility with me when he said these lines. Some people self-publish for perfectly valid reasons. I know that has, and I continue to hold him in the highest esteem. He’s well-versed in the business realities of publishing.

            What makes them any less credible than anyone else? Just becuase you got a deal, don’t mean their choice is less viable for them.

            Wha? Do you have an inside track on my career? Should I pop open the champagne? Last time I checked, I hadn’t landed a publishing contract for my book. Sure I’ve got a bunch of short stories under my belt, but that’s not the same thing at all. I’m still in the “wannabe” camp; I’m a neo-pro wannabe, but that still puts we squarely on the outside with my nose pressed against the glass.

            “Deal” status aside, yes, people are free to make their own choices. Doesn’t mean I have to respect them when they make poor ones. It’s my choice to dole out how much credibility I invest in individuals based upon what I know of their thinking processes and the decisions they make.

          • mroctober says:

            I feel up to snuff to comment on this topic because I have self-published my work, run a small Print-on-Demand publishing company, and have sold to small “professional presses.

            Self-publishing has some uses – I chose to self-publish a collection of short stories because few presses handle such fare, especially queer spec fic. But if a more traditional publisher had offered I would have certainly accepted. I publish people’s work that has been out-of-print; authors choose me because there is not enough sales potential to interest a larger publisher. Its all finances.

            For those who just wish an artistic exercise, much like painting (and hanging it in your own house or that of friend’s), self-publishing is terrific. But if you want to make a career or a profession out of writng, self-publishing is a poor choice. Far better to keep plugging away with traditional publishers.

  4. mtreiten says:

    I have to agree with you. When someone who is presented as an expert/professional says something in an area that you have knowledge, and the information presented is obviously wrong, you can’t help but question the expert’s credibility. The initial trust is easily shattered. If the expert didn’t care to do careful research on a personally important topic, will the guidance offered be of any real value? Or if he’s putting a spin on his self-publishing thinking that no one will know the difference, will the advice he dishes out be anything other than soothing lies?

    Oh, well. Good luck and here’s to a skyrocketing literary career that will render the “day job” obsolete.

  5. manifestress says:

    Self Publishing

    I disagree with you about the negative slant on self-publishing.

    Walt Whitman and Anais Nin self-published.

    Julia Camereon self-published The Artist’s Way, which got picked up by a publisher and has gone on to sell a million copies.

    I do believe, however, that you have to have a quality manuscript, whichever way you go.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Re: Self Publishing

      As I said in my last paragraph:

      Whereas there are legit reasons to self-publish, “maintaining artistic rights” and viewing it as the only “sane” approach to publishing ain’t them.

      Proponents of self-publishing often point to the exceptions, the successful authors who self-published (many of whom then went on to sign deals with major publishing houses). But that’s just like someone pointing to a lottery winner and going: “they struck it rich by playing!” I’m not going to change my opinion of the lottery–that it’s a poor way to strike it rich–because it has winners.

    • mtfay says:

      Re: Self Publishing

      Walt Whitman self published in an era where it was either that or have a rich patron. Anais Nin self published only to the extent that she collected the stories she was paid to write for her erotica customer in a book and published them. But she had paid a ton of money, for those days, to write them in the first place.

      And it’s true that Julia Camereon self-published, but she didn’t sell until she picked up a publisher.

    • dr_pipe says:

      Re: Self Publishing

      Was Dune self published? Or published by a car manual publisher or something weird like that? I think I heard that somewhere.

      • Eugie Foster says:

        Re: Self Publishing

        I believe it was indeed published originally in 1965 by a “how to” manual publisher, but was then subsequently picked up by Gollancz in 1966.

  6. Good story! I would’ve reacted exactly like you.

    ~Maggie :)

  7. dean13 says:

    Good story, indeed! The unemployment office is a pot of gold, for a writer. I laughed out loud at the visual of the man babbling on and on with a flashing neon placard announcing his foolishness.

    You must have hidden your thoughts well or he was clueless to your body language. I will guess he was clueless.

    Hmmm… groan… oh, the times I’ve played the fool.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      You must have hidden your thoughts well or he was clueless to your body language.

      A little from column A, a little from column B. Actually, I just put on my “corporate drone” face–y’know the polite-interest-while-you-compile-your-grocery-list expression you gotta have for those pep rally meetings about “building our brand” and “putting in 110%.” Yep. Over a decade of being a cubicle lemming has taught me many valuable skills . . .

  8. dr_pipe says:

    Stirred up a lot of controversy with the self publishing, looks like…

    Maybe when he says ‘maintaining artistic rights’ he means the right to write a bad novel. All too often, people who complain about a narrow minded industry are complaining because they don’t write well enough to be picked up by that industry.

    Just like people who say they refuse to compromise their artistic integrity by ‘dumbing down’ their work for people who don’t understand it. Certianly there are good writers who have a dense but rewarding style, but generally an amateur or a beginner making this claim is just not writing clearly enough. I definitely have this problem myself, and often struggle to find the line between compromising my style and pruning bloated verbage.

    That said, I think that in this day and age a self publisher can make a viable effort, especially with electronic publishing and/or internet marketing. There’s a stigma that self-publishers are beign scammed by vanity presses, paying someone to print their stuff when the press will often not even end up print very many copies because of some ‘print on demand’ clause. But a self publisher could actually do everything themselves, market on the web, sell PDFs or merchandise. Many comic creators have their comics available on the web for free and make money on their merchandise.

    Not that I think this is what he’s doing, or anything. I just think the possibilities are interesting.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      I’m a drama whore! Eeee!

      *ahem*

      So yeah, legitimate reasons and methods of self-publishing do exist, but viewing it as the “only sane” model of publishing isn’t one of them.

  9. tstauffer says:

    I have to agree with Eugie on this one. If you are wanting to write a novel for the mass market, self-publishing is not the way to go in my opinion. If you are truly a talented writer who deserves to be read, it may take time to find the right editor/publishing house who gets you and your work, but it will happen. To me, self-publishing is an act of desperation in a lot of cases…the need for validation.

    By the way, I’m hiding behind Eugie, so flying objects won’t hit me. She’s pretty damn invunerable. ;)

    • Eugie Foster says:

      By the way, I’m hiding behind Eugie, so flying objects won’t hit me. She’s pretty damn invunerable.

      *ouch, ow, owie!* Invulnerable? Me? Nu-huh, and I’ve got the black-and-blue bits to prove it!

  10. teratologist says:

    A lot of people who do public-speakery, self-helpy sorts of things come at publishing from the self-publishing route because the books they write are part of an overall business mini-empire where they give a talk, sell the books to the attendees, and get a speaking fee from the org that invited them, rather than going through the traditional bookstore sales path, at least initially. From thence we get things like the Chicken Soup glurge, ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, etc. It’s about keeping rights, yeah, but not ‘artistic’ ones so much as the rights to as much of the cash as possible.

    And although there are some exceptions, the process is not exactly well-known for producing literary masterpieces, nor does it produce a lot of knowledge that’s applicable to more traditional book marketing.

    That said, I’d reserve the neon SUCKER lamp for people who go with outright vanity presses.

  11. Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me before, though not in a context where I’m supposed to be learning from the person in question. Usually my smile kind of freezes on my face and I try not to cringe. I’ve also had “the discussion” with people who were about to self-publish.

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